Pushing it

I wore a mid-afternoon veneer of sweat and sunblock, in a mixture that dripped helplessly down my body. I gulped the last of my warm Gatorade and moved on to the bottle of water, which was also warm and getting close to empty. The temperature in the sun was about 96 degrees, and perhaps a few degrees cooler where I stood on the shaded sidewalk. My bike was near me, idling against a fence. I started to relax as my body slowly cooled. I had been biking for 37 miles, and another 11 stretched between me and my apartment. Under better conditions I would have had no trouble completing the ride, but the hottest day of the year had gotten the better of me. I had just come down from the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway—shady, downhill, river-adjacent—and found myself on the completely sun-exposed shoulder of Halsey Street in Troutdale. It was 3:00 and I could no longer handle the heat radiating from the asphalt. I caught a bus, put my bike on the front rack, and returned to Portland in air-conditioned comfort.

Earlier that day, while debating whether or not to go out in the forecast heat, I assumed I’d be home before the temperature hit its peak. But I hadn’t started early enough. My 9:30 breakfast stop turned into a sojourn, since my little pre-ride to the restaurant had me sweating already. I wondered if I should go on, even as I downed the stack of pancakes that I ordered specifically to fuel a long bike ride. In the end, I couldn’t convince myself to give up the goal of reaching Crown Point in the Gorge. This was the very ride that kickstarted my knee problem over a year ago and prevented me from riding the Tour of the Unknown Coast, and generally sidelined me from doing long rides for a while. (more…)

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A love of Saturday

Dear friend,

This was a very Portlandy day in Portland. I felt more at ease than I had in quite a while. The air felt substantially warmer than it had in the past few weeks; our winter has been quite frosty in January. Today we had friendly clouds with a bit of drizzle and a smattering of sun. I started my day with a walk down the street for coffee and pastries, which I ate while browsing Caturday pictures on my laptop. Under most circumstances, it takes little more than that to make me content.

To get from contentment to happiness, though, requires a bike. And I’ve been using mine consistently over the past few weekends, as Fred has borrowed my car to get to his job on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s been a pleasant reminder of how little I actually need my car. I admit that I’ve often succumbed to the cold, nasty weather as an excuse not to get around by bike, even though I’m well equipped for staying warm. (The main problem is with my glasses, which get fogged up easily.) In today’s mild weather I biked just a mile or so to meet a friend for lunch at Portland’s best Lebanese restaurant. On the way back, I hauled myself up the old Salmon Street hill, expecting to run out of breath quickly—most winter cycling trips remind me that I’m out of shape—but found it very easy to keep a steady cadence with only a couple of downshifts.  (more…)

2012 retrospective

January

It was going to be the year of bike touring. I woke up in 2012 at Stub Stewart State Park, having biked there from Hillsboro with a group of friends to celebrate New Year’s Eve with two nights of cabin camping. Although it had been an easy 22-mile ride, I reacted to the dawning of the New Year with relief that I wouldn’t have to pack up my gear and pedal home that day. Most of my prior bike camping trips had lasted a single night each, allowing little time for laziness in the morning, as it was always best to head out by 11:00 to get home at a reasonable time. And mornings were always cold. This time we were tucked into heated cabins full of furniture, food, and board games that people had stashed in their panniers. I had the entirety of New Year’s Day to play silly games like Taboo, read my book, drink from various bottles of liquor sitting on the windowsill, and take a couple naps on the bunk bed while eavesdropping on friendly conversations. It was thoroughly relaxing.

Later that month, I bought some Adventure Cycling Association maps and cultivated the idea of a bike tour down the Oregon coast into northern California.

February

On a day in mid-February, I walked into my office for a day of work just as I’d done for the past eight months. Nothing was different except that I had just been converted from contractor to full-time employee of the company. Procedures dictated that I be treated as a newcomer and receive a two-hour orientation. I listened half-carefully during the session while skimming the employee handbook. At one point, the company president walked into our conference room and shooed us out because he needed the meeting space. He was friendly, and when he found out that we were new employees, he introduced himself to us. My hands were busy cradling all the orientation paperwork and a coffee cup, so unfortunately I couldn’t accept his handshake. He welcomed me to the company anyway, and some indignant part of me wanted to say, “Haha! That’s cute of you, but actually, I’ve been working here for a while and I’m too good for this orientation. Will you please tell this HR person to let me return to my work?” Instead, of course, I left quietly and followed the trainer into the lobby so she could finish telling me things I already knew. I haven’t had a chance to meet the president since. (more…)

My inner child, in person

She wanted a balloon. Red Robin had a bin of them, un-inflated, at the hostess booth. With no employees nearby, Simone reached in and picked one out. I didn’t mind, but the hostess looked a little cross as she came up and offered to seat us. I’m sure it’s verboten to let customers touch the contents of the hostess booth. Still we kept the limp, pink balloon and took it with us to our table. Simone (not her real name) was more interested in it, and in just about everything around us, than she was in ordering food. I kept it in my hand, and made us finish most of our meals before I put the balloon to my lips and blew it up for her. It was less than ideally plump, but we had fun batting it gently across the small table to each other.

We soon realized that, given the pathetic job I’d done at blowing it up, the balloon wasn’t even energetic enough to float at the end of a string. So we grabbed one of the already-inflated balloons on our way out of the restaurant. I carried the limp one back to the car while Simone carried the new, vibrant orange one, keeping a tight hold as the wind tried to loosen it. To her it became a lively pet on a leash. In the car, she talked to it and coaxed it onto her lap. It was a boy, and the other (pink) balloon was its sister. I agreed to let brother and sister share the backseat while we drove back to Simone’s house. When I dropped her off, I had to promise the pink balloon that I would play with it.

A child’s imagination yields constant surprises. I thought I had a reasonably good imagination, at least for a grown-up, until I started mentoring a seven-year-old girl (who recently turned eight). Every object we encounter plays a role belied by its mundane appearance. Pieces of tree bark are life-giving talismans to fortify us in a battle against trolls in the park. A dirty pen cap found on the street is a magical paintbrush. A pine branch, when dragged along the ground after a rain, is a dog that likes to play in puddles. (more…)

Bucket list

In 1998, at the age of fifteen, I started compiling my bucket list. Written on a twice-folded sheet of notebook paper, it fell out of one my old journals the other day as I was searching for material for an upcoming appearance at “Mortified.” On the outside fold I had written My Life’s To-Do List in capital letters, and included this faux-legalese preface: Subject to updates at any time. Items may be carried out at any point in time, whether I’m 19 or 90 years old. Items may be, and in some cases are recommended to be, carried out more than once.

Inside is a list of thirteen items. Most of them were written at the same time, but judging by the slight change in penmanship, I think the last two were added later. Then, using a different pen, I’d begun putting stars next to the things I’d achieved. After a quick update to account for the intervening years, I can report that my current stats include 4/13 items completed, 2/13 partially completed, and 7/13 incomplete. The list is mostly modest and eminently doable, especially this contingency-laden goal: “Take my kids (if I have any) to Yosemite (if they’re interested at all).” Apparently, I’m off the hook for that one if my future children disdain the idea of seeing one of our most beautiful national parks.

Here are some successes that my fifteen-year-old self would be proud of. (more…)

Left in the dust of snow

I hoped I wasn’t being rude by using my iPod to drown out the silence of strangers. We were all thrown in a van together by virtue of signing up for a snowshoeing trip, and I knew I wasn’t alone in my wishes. The woman in front of me opened up a magazine a few minutes into the drive, although she obviously knew some of the other passengers. I overheard a few of them talking about previous excursions they’d taken with the city Parks and Rec Department. As the least experienced and (almost) youngest person there, I was most comfortable sitting toward the back and listening to a “This American Life” podcast.

Actually, nobody seemed very interested in talking at that early hour on a Saturday. The only muffled conversation I heard during the ride from Portland to Mt. Hood came from the front seats, where the tour guide—also our driver—chatted with the woman who’d landed in the passenger seat as the first person picked up that morning. Better her than me. I dislike small talk anyway, and I was more concerned with having an adventure than with making new friends. Before this I had never engaged in wintry recreation, aside from trudging through my snow-covered neighborhood streets to get to Fred Meyer during the 2008 “blizzard.” This year, for a change, I’d decided not to hibernate through the coldest season. (more…)

Automotive affairs

My affair with the car-free lifestyle came to an abrupt end last month. I cared passionately for it, but my patience thinned over the years as I dated people, made new friends, and got busy with volunteer work—all of which were inhibited by my lack of vehicular mobility. Even running simple errands required planning and scheduling a thick cushion of time for transportation. However, because I’m a tolerant person who doesn’t mind living at a slower pace, I had tentatively planned to stay car-free until I had children (a possibility that’s still a long way from happening).

In the meantime, I started relying on Zipcar more and more to support my three “kids”: two cats that need to be taken to the vet, and a seven-year-old mentee who needs to be picked and dropped off several times a month. I discovered that a personal schedule becomes harder to maintain when you have kids. Zipcars seem less handy when you can barely manage to return them on time. Buses are extremely unattractive when you have two cat carriers, or when you’d have to take a 30-minute ride to your mentee’s house for the purpose of getting her away from her neighborhood for a while.

Still, I’d never thought seriously about getting a car until early November. When the thoughts started, they quickly ran their course and told me definitively, confidently, that it was time to start car-shopping. (more…)

A living example

About six weeks ago, I sat in a conference room with three other prospective mentors and learned that we were all just days away from being matched up with kids. This was the second of two training sessions following an orientation, at which we’d learned that it often took months to make a pairing. But at this point the program had a long list of kids who were unmatched—some had been waiting for a long time. The other adults and I had read the handbook, been fingerprinted, and had our references checked. Since the program leaders trusted us, the parents of children who’d signed up would have to trust us now too.

That last thought struck me with unexpected force. As the program director continued speaking, I became overwhelmed with gratitude and fear. (more…)

Graves

Stacked Up

Among Humboldt County aficionados, I’m not the only person who is fascinated by the Ferndale Cemetery for aesthetic reasons. It’s historically significant, but more importantly to me, it’s a beautiful expanse of land. Whenever I visited the tiny town of Ferndale, I would notice the wrought-iron cemetery gates and tell myself that I ought to go there and take photos someday. First I had to get over the fear that I would look like a creep, prowling through a garden of headstones with my camera. I generally like walking around cemeteries, whether or not I’m there to take photos, but I’m always mindful of other people who are visiting the gravesites of loved ones. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m there just for kicks. (more…)

Back to my hermit cave

I try not to swim in the mainstream of culture: frankly, it is trashy and overcrowded. I vehemently dislike the crass, blaring hype surrounding movies, television, popular music and anything else that is insisted upon as a Must-See or Must-Have, and if you haven’t seen it or don’t have it, you’re some kind of kook. That’s me trying to put my thoughts about this topic into a nutshell, because it’s not the subject of today’s post. Someday, I will rant more; today, I just want to introduce some context for the fact that I rarely go to the movies. When I do, it’s usually at one of Portland’s small, three-dollar pub theaters to see a second-run or independent film, rather than a cineplex. Cineplexes are like the big-box stores of movie theaters, except that, unlike Wal-Mart, they are more expensive than the competition. And, as I found out a few days ago, they are unpleasant enough to make a young person crotchety. (more…)

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